City, builder off to court
State gives owner until 2015 to finish

By DAVE RANK - Daily News

July 10, 2014

 Owner John Bagley looks around one of the units he is ready to lease at his industrial park on Wednesday morning in West Bend. Bagley has five units ready to lease but can not due to restrictions from the city of West Bend. The city is trying to get a raze order on the building. 
John Ehlke/Daily News

WEST BEND - There’s a cold-shoulder war over the north side industrial site at 2100 Northwestern Ave. between the city of West Bend and property owner John Bagley.

City officials want to shut down the former 97,665-square-foot factory, known as the Bermico building, claiming it’s dilapidated condition is a public safety hazard. The oldest part of the factory was built in 1927.

Bagley said the city continues to cite outdated information, exaggerate the seriousness of problems and ignores the $100,000 in improvements he’s put into the structure since he bought it in February 2013 for $150,000.
Bagley has one tenant and five units ready to rent. “I’ve been ready for lease for eight months now. The city won’t allow it. They’re killing my revenue,” he said.

The property is between the Milwaukee River and the Eisenbahn State Trail, a block west of Barton Park.

“No city official has talked to me in six months,” Bagley said.

Each blames the other for being uncooperative and now they’re preparing to take their complaints to court.

“We’re trying to do the responsible thing here,” City Administrator T.J. Justice said.

New lights were added to the building.  
John Ehlke/Daily News

On Friday, the city announced it was going to court to block access to the 5.29-acre site until it can obtain a raze order. If a judge sides with the city, Bagley will have to pay for the building’s removal, according to state statute.

“We’re concerned about safety. That’s what it boils down to,” Justice said.

The purchase was through Bagley’s JHB Investments.

“I purchased the building nearly two years ago and it was in shambles. Everyone knows that,” Bagley said Wednesday.

He ran through the check list of improvements he and his company, JHB Design & Construct, West Bend, and subcontractors have made: New or repaired roofing, security lights installed, doors rekeyed with a master key to rule them all, tuck pointing masonry, facade improvements, new windows, heating system and sprinkler system for half of the building. He also took out the old electrical, he said.

The building is divided into 12 units Bagley plans to lease for warehousing or light-industrial use. In October, 40,000-square-feet of the building, deemed unusable, will be demolished, Bagley said.

Bagley has one tenant and five units ready to rent. “I’ve been ready for lease for eight months now. The city won’t allow it. They’re killing my revenue,” he said. “If I had the permit to occupy I could start leasing next month.”

This is not the first time the city has tried to raze the building. It happened in 2000 and again in 2013, each time the city taken to court and convinced to back down.

Michael Miller, now a county supervisor from West Bend, was the city’s mayor from 1987-2005.

“We were talked into not taking it any further,” Miller said of the 2000 attempt. “We were convinced it would be renovated. That’s what we were told. But that’s been a long time.”

The property had problems his entire tenure, Miller said. One problem was with plastics firms that stored materials outside the building.

“There was seeping into the river,” he said. “It seems like the property was never maintained. It had a lot of potential and it’s always been an eyesore for the neighbors.”

Bagley denies his building is unsafe or has any more problem with trespassers than any other property.

“I own 7 acres on the river and I have woods over there,” Badley said. “Of course, kids are going to play down here.” But, he added, there has been no trespassing in the building.

Bagley said the state’s Department of Natural Resources no longer has a problem with his property and where the building is located in not in the river’s floodplain.

He also showed the permits and approvals he’s received from the state for his development plan, which he has until August of 2015 to complete.

Bagley said he had to go to the state for approvals because he could not get them from City Hall. “It cost me 10 times the amount. I’m fully approved by the state. How is the city of West Bend overriding the state of Wisconsin?”

Justice said there was not much he could say about the city’s concerns with Bagley’s property because it is heading into litigation.

He acknowledge the state has issued approvals for Bagley’s development, but “there are additional steps that need to be taken. There’s just unfinished business. We’ve got a number of people up here concerned about safety.”

The disagreement between Bagley and the city will be worked out in court, Justice said. “It’s much better played out in a court of law where it belongs.”

The early history

In 1927, businessmen in the then-village of Barton constructed a small building at 2100 Northwestern Ave. to entice the Line Material Co. of Milwaukee to open its manufacturing plant there and produce Coal Tar Impregnated Wood Fibre pipe, an alternative to iron piping.

That company in 1956 was bought by McGraw-Edison. It became Bermico in 1969, remained in business until the late 1970s.

Fibre pipe was made of ground cellulose fibres bound together with a water resistant adhesive, which was dried and soaked in liquefied coal tar pitch. Line Material used old newspapers, which is made of wood pulp, to make its pipes.

Fibre pipe production goes back more than 120 years. In 1893, the Union Electric Co. and Nyack Electric Light and Power Co. founded the Fibre Conduit Co. in Orangeburg, N.Y., the first and biggest to mass produce the fibre conduit. The product soon picked up the common name Orangeburg and later Bermico pipe.

Sources: Barton Historical Society and Washington County Register of Deeds .